3 local artists make Top 20 on ‘American Idol’

Makayla Phillips
Makayla Phillips, 17, of Temecula has advanced to the top 20 of season 18 of “American Idol” on ABC. Valley News/ABC/Eric McCandless photo

Three area music artists have advanced to the top 20 of season 18 of “American Idol” on ABC.

Two high school student vocalists, Olivia Ximines, 17, of Menifee and Makayla Phillips, 17, of Temecula, are competing alongside 23-year-old Murrieta singer songwriter Jonny West.

The three artists have battled through the audition process, two rounds of Hollywood Week competitions, and the showcase week performances in Hawaii to reach the roster of 20 contestants.

The competition resumes on Sunday, April 26, and when it starts back up again, things will be a little different.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, the show was forced to split up all the contestants, sending them home for the foreseeable future and throwing the contest into doubt.

Olivia Ximines
Olivia Ximines, 17, of Menifee performs Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”’ on “American Idol.” The performance helped her advance to the top 20. Valley News/ABC/Eric McCandless photo

However, the powers that be formulated a plan to have the contestants compete from their respective homes. It appears as though they will begin performances again Sunday and judges Lionel Ritchie, Katie Perry and Luke Bryant will be judging virtually from California and Nashville respectively.

For 17-year-old Makayla Phillips, who once received the Golden Buzzer from “America’s Got Talent” judge Heidi Klum, competing and performing from home is a bonus.

“I’m very, very close with my family, so, I like having them around me, they can feel a lot more comfortable and just safe, which is another reason why I’m very excited that we’re filming from home,” she said in a recent interview with Valley News. “Because I get to be with my family the whole time.”

Phillips said she would miss the experience of bonding with her fellow competitors – Olivia in particular, since the two have become good friends through the process and didn’t know each other before the show.

She said she also has become friends with Jonny’s girlfriend, former competitor, Margie Mays.

“I met them both at Hollywood Week, actually,” Phillips said. “Johnny’s girlfriend and I got pretty close at Hollywood Week. But Olivia and I got really close. We’re pretty much best friends.”

Phillips said she and Ximines talk about the experience of being on “Idol” and what they are going through, so, that’s been a good thing.

Jonny West
Jonny West, 23, of Murrieta performs The Fray’s “You Found Me” in the Hawaii rounds of “American Idol.” West has also advanced into the top 20. Valley News/ABC/Eric McCandless photo

“Olivia and I definitely do,” she said. “I’m less close with Jonny, but Jonny’s freaking hilarious. I love that guy. Olivia and I specifically, we talk about it a lot and we’re both just really excited. We don’t really have any negatives, I would say we’re both just very, very happy that we still get to be on the show at all.”

Having had the experience of competing at “America’s Got Talent,” Phillips said she was cherishing the difference between the two shows.

“I’m very, very, very grateful for both experiences,” Phillips said. “‘AGT’ was amazing. Obviously. It’s pretty much the main thing that helped boost my career.”

The two experiences have been what Phillips calls “extremely different.”

“… Just because on ‘American Idol,’ the contestants get a chance to get a lot closer. I’m very thankful for that. I’ve made so many incredible friends, whereas on ‘AGT,’ I kind of only got to meet maybe four or five of the contestants,” she said. “It’s definitely more of like a team effort on ‘American Idol,’ it’s less competitive if that makes sense. Which is crazy because you would think it’s a bunch of singers and we would all be cat scratching each other, but it’s the complete opposite. Everyone’s been really incredible. They all are very supportive.”

Phillips said she has known that she’s wanted to be a singer since the age of two when she first saw the movie, “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“When I saw the movie, it just completely just inspired me,” she said. “It is the reason I sing at all. I realized I wanted to do it ever since and I just always was singing all the time. Finally, when I was around eight or nine, somewhere around there, I got scouted out of this little theater academy that I go to, it’s called the Academy of Music in Murrieta. I started taking classes at a place called Hollywood Launch, it’s a triple threat program. They focus on singing, acting, dancing, performance, writing, all that stuff. And I’ve been training ever since.”

She said training from a very young age has prepared her for some of the hardships surrounding missing out on some of the things she will miss as a senior in high school because of the coronavirus.

“Me personally, I’ve been privately home-schooled pretty much my whole life since second grade,” Phillips said. “So, I’ve kind of been like training for this my whole life. Being in quarantine has actually been amazing for me personally. My family and I have been able to spend a lot of time together which is something I am grateful for. I’ve been able to focus on myself mentally and physically. I’ve been focusing a lot on ‘American Idol’ and what’s going on with all the home stuff. It’s pretty much all I can do at this point, especially since I am graduating, so, yes it’s been a little different.”

Phillips auditioned in Los Angeles and sang “Who’s Lovin’ You” by The Miracles. Perry’s and Bryant’s “yes” votes ensured her participation in the show, sending her to the next round.

In the first Hollywood Week round, she sang “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” by Jennifer Holliday and sang in a duet with contestant Cyniah Elise singing “The Prayer” by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli.

In her final performance during Hollywood Week, she sang “Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo and again advanced.

During the Hawaii Round, Phillips sang “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato and after the performance, the judges let her know that she had made the top 20.

Ximines also auditioned in Los Angeles, singing “Language” by Canyon Lake born and bred Tori Kelly and she was voted through by the judges unanimously.

During Hollywood Week she sang “All I Ask” by Adele and “Try” by Pink in a duet with contestant Isa Pena. In her solo performance, she sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston.

In Hawaii, Ximines performed “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner, which she herself choreographed. During the show, she admitted the students at her high school didn’t even know she was competing at “Idol.”

In telling her that she had advanced to the top 20, Ritchie suggested that she tell her friends and schoolmates.

Like the others, West auditioned in Los Angeles, but he performed one of his original songs on piano, which garnered him a unanimous “yes” from the judges.

In the Hollywood Week rounds, he first sang “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi, making it through to the next round. He later performed a duet with his girlfriend and fellow contestant, Margie Mays, singing “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor and John Legend. According to the judges, the performance was lacking, West then sang another original song for his final solo performance and advanced. Mays was eliminated during the grueling Hollywood Week.

In the Hawaii round, West performed “You Found Me” by The Fray and advanced into the top 20.

“American Idol” airs at 8 p.m. PST on Sunday nights.

Editor’s note; Interviews with Ximines and West could not be arranged with the network before press time.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.